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Council Wrap-up: Debates Over Cell Tower, Christmas Tree, China Sister City and More

Marathon meeting marked by conflicts including a cell tower ground lease at Jollyman Park, what to call the Community Tree Lighting, and whether to establish a sister city relationship with Kunshan, China.

Tuesday night marked Mayor Gilbert Wong’s last full Cupertino City Council meeting in the top spot, and Councilmember Kris Wang’s last full meeting after eight years in the seat. On Dec. 6, member-elect Rod Sinks gets sworn in, and the council will elect a new mayor.

It also proved to be one of the longer meetings of 2011, with several highly contentious issues either on the agenda or popping up in council conversation.

The meeting started at 5:30 p.m. with a study session on a potential ground lease in a city park for a cell tower, and ended just after 12:45 a.m. with sparks over a suggestion for campaign fundraising reform.

In between there were debates over whether to call the “Community Tree Lighting Ceremony” the “Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony”, whether Cupertino should become a sister city with a city on Mainland China, among other issues.

Here’s a wrap-up of some of what happened. You can catch the full seven-hour video on the city’s website. You don't have to watch the full length of the meeting, you can jump to specific topics.

Cell Tower Ground Lease at Jollyman Park

One of the more popular contentious public issues—cell towers—kicked off the meeting. After hearing multiple protests from neighbors, the council postponed discussing a possible ground lease with AT&T for a tower at on Stelling Road.

Speakers against the lease presented a petition with 173 signatures from residents living around the park. They cited various reasons why they did not want a cell phone tower at the park, including a belief it would be a health hazard for children, and that it would be an ugly addition to the park’s beauty. They also argued there are better locations for improving coverage to neighborhoods west of Highway 85.

On the other side of the issue, Capt. Carl Neusel of the Sheriff’s Office told the council that improved voice and data coverage is urgently needed in the city for safety reasons. As an example, he said poor coverage negatively impacted the department’s ability to communicate during the

While a tower at Jollyman would not have a broad reach, it would provide coverage for deputies in western neighborhoods with current extremely poor coverage, and would allow residents in those areas to call 911 from cell phones.

Council members said they wanted to postpone the discussion until after the new council was seated. Wang did not participate in the discussion, recusing herself because she lives within 500 feet of the park.

‘Oh, Christmas-Community-Holiday-Generic Event Tree…’

It’s the at 6 p.m. on Dec. 2 at the this year, but the council voted—with mixed feelings—to call it the “Tree Lighting Ceremony” in 2012, despite residents who urged the compromise, “Community Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony”.

The city has been holding the annual event under the “Community”-only moniker since 1992, according to Parks and Recreation Director Mark Linder. In light of the community-building work the city has been engaged in since that time to bring together diverse cultures, he strongly recommended against attaching “Christmas” to the name.

“The community tree is simply one expression of the desire to be a community,” Linder said. He added, “no faith tradition is given a preference or singled out.” Linder also said that members of other faith traditions in the city have told staff that “it would be highly disappointing” and divisive to make it a Christmas tree. He also noted that other local cities that sponsor similar events keep the name secular.

Several speakers strongly disagreed with a secular name. Calling the tree an important cultural symbol, St. Joseph of Cupertino Choir Director Dan Morris told the council that, “it is not the place of the government to change the name and render it generic.”

Many urged the council to at least compromise and add the name “Christmas” to the event.

Wong reflected the sentiments of others on the council when he said he was “truly torn about it.” He and others said that people know in reality it is a Christmas tree, even when it’s not called that.

Councilmember Orrin Mahoney tried to get votes for “Holiday Tree”, and failed. Councilmember Barry Chang said he could support “Community Christmas Tree”, but that also failed. Wong tried to convince the council to continue the entire discussion until after further community outreach took place on the issue, and that failed, as well.

In the end Wang said, “How about nothing, just ‘Tree Lighting.’ Will that work?” Audience members called out it would not work. But Mahoney seconded and the council voted 3-2 for "Tree Lighting", with Chang and Wong dissenting.

Sister Cityhood with Kunshan, China?

The council agreed to send a letter to officials in Kunshan, China, expressing interest in a possible future sister city cultural exchange, but not after much effort by a skeptical Wang to postpone a decision.

Wang thought a committee of citizens advocating sister cityhood was moving too fast and that there was not enough evidence that a strong connection between the two cities could be made. She also seemed to question whether the effort was driven by Cupertino residents, or by outside interests, and even by Wong, who visited Kunshan earlier this year. 

Kunshan Sister City Committee Chairperson Don Sun said people of the city on Mainland China are anxious to establish a relationship. He said delegates had visited Cupertino in July, and will be back Dec. 1. He said both cities have similar high tech backgrounds and interest in education.

Several speakers advocated for a more formal relationship as a sister city, including former Mayor Patrick Kwok. But the council was not convinced the two cities were ready for that step. Members voted 4-1 for the letter of intent, with Wong dissenting.

Tense Moments Over Campaign Fundraising Reform Request

Four weeks after , another tense moment flared on Tuesday night when Chang asked that the topic of campaign fundraising reform be placed on a future agenda.

Chang said he wants the council to consider placing limits on amounts that individuals and organizations may donate to candidates. —although by what turned out to be a slim lead over Sinks— for

As Chang was laying out his ideas for reform, Wong interrupted with, “Councilmember Chang you also got a $10,000 contribution from a single source,” in an earlier campaign. Chang said it was from a good friend who does not have development interests in Cupertino. 

“You’re contradicting yourself taking a $10,000 donation, and then you’re running for supervisor next year,” Wong said. He then criticized Chang for before his term with Cupertino is complete in 2013.

“You’re not focusing on the residents of Cupertino,” Wong pressed. He also accused Chang of using his council report time to campaign for supervisor.

Chang said he has not made up his mind yet, although he admitted he is interested in running out of his interest in enforcing regulations on , which lies just outside of Cupertino within the county’s jurisdiction. Chang is one of the company's top critics.

As Chang continued to talk about possible reforms, Wong persisted in interrupting, finally saying that he’s “been very patient” all year, and “I’m fed up with it.”

No other council members expressed interest in Chang's request for the issue to appear on a future agenda.

Laura R November 17, 2011 at 03:41 PM
I understand both points of view, but I like calling it a Tree Lighting, which makes other faiths feel included in a lovely holiday tradition, and is not counter to religious beliefs at all. (RE: "“The community tree is simply one expression of the desire to be a community,” Linder said. He added, “no faith tradition is given a preference or singled out.” Linder also said that members of other faith traditions in the city have told staff that “it would be highly disappointing” and divisive to make it a Christmas tree. He also noted that other local cities that sponsor similar events keep the name secular.")
Gail Nordby November 17, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Wow...no other council member expressed interest in taking a look at Campaign fundraising reform! Really?? It seems to me that issue is something that affects how a Council member would vote once in. If you have a large donation from a developer, I'm sure that money will grant favorable votes while the Council member is in office. Shame on the Council for not even wanting to talk about it. I guess it is too controversial, too close to home.
Frank Geefay November 17, 2011 at 07:01 PM
It is understandable that elected officials resists campaign reform, especially those who are the object for reform. Wong's accusations of Chang are irrelevant to the discussion. Candidate receiving unlimited funds, which is what happened when Wong received over $70,000, is insane. Wong only spent half of this money for more flyers than any other candidate, so why need more? What does Wong plant to do with the excess? Run for another office; an accusation he made of Chang? This would seem an abuse of campaign contributions and a reason for campaign reform. Believing that large contributions from special interests will not influence a council members decisions seem naive. One must ask why do special interests donate large sums of money to candidates? I am sure they are expecting something in return. This is another good reason for campaign reform to limit influence of special interest groups. Then there are candidates new to the political scene who do not have the name recognition to receive large donations from special interests. Many, such as Rod Sinks, are excellent candidate who are at an unfair advantage. Limiting contributions will level the playing field. These are only a few examples for the need to limit campaign contribution to $250 per donor for candidates who do not sign up for campaign spending limit and $500 for candidates who do. This election reform, which has been adopted for Santa Clara County elections, will limit insane campaign practices.
Frank Geefay November 17, 2011 at 07:37 PM
We need to insist that campaign reform be voted on when the new mayor gets voted in. We cannot keep on putting up with unfair and unethical practices as has just happened this year and others. We cannot allow this to continue to happen year after year. The time for complaining is over. It is time to take action.
Chris Zhang November 17, 2011 at 10:07 PM
Now that I'm not longer running a campaign, I'd like to speak on this issue more freely --- Yes, we need campaign financing reform. The problem is that those in power to make changes are often times the beneficiaries of currently lax campaign financing laws. I agree with Frank that we need a grass root effort to enact changes, and protect our government and schools from falling prey to corporations and their puppets.
Neighbor NextDoor November 18, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Gilbert Wong seems not getting the message that Cupertino residents are very much concerned of his questionable solicitation of oversize donations from special interest groups in conflict with his loyalty to his constituency. His strong reaction to the "Campaign fundraising reform" proposed by councilman Barry Chang is not very helpful in earning trust from the city residents. It is equally disturbing that the rest of the council showed no interest whatsoever to support a much needed political ethics reform!! For this reason, all of us must keep a close eye on all of them and their votes on any item in front of the council that might be susceptible to undue influence by special interest and harmful to the future of our city. We should and must start petition drive to place a city measure on next election's ballot and let the voters to decide how and how much campaign finance reform is needed.
Frank Geefay November 18, 2011 at 05:34 PM
It seems that over the past few years little has been accomplished by City Council to better the community as a whole. This list of parting agenda items in this last Council meeting is typical. This is not to say that some items such as concerns about cell towers in neighborhood parks is not important but the impact is limited. The only item with sweeping consequences to the city was Campaign Reform, yet all but one Council member, Barry Chang, showed any interest and the mayor seemed dead set against it. There seems to be a lack of vision, of seeing the bigger picture, among most Council members. Discussions go on to early in the morning about mundane items of limited impact. City Council seems to only react to crisis rather than proactively plan for the future. City council badly need a change of leadership "...to go where no one has gone before". There are traffic congestion issues around schools, attracting new business into the city, helping our schools, stopping pollution and violations from the Lehigh Cement plant and many other things brought up during political campaigns that have festered for decades with no definitive action on the part of City Council. None of the issues I listed is new and all are campaign promises by City Council members. We need action, not campaign rhetoric. It is time for Change.
Susan November 18, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Since this is the holiday season, and there is time before the next election, how about we give the new council a chance to rise to the occasion regarding a campaign finance reform ordinance? I think they will. In the meantime, don't assume they are reading your Patch comments; share your concerns with them directly: citycouncil@cupertino.org Simply repeat what you’ve stated here, that we need a "level playing field" to ensure the best people are elected to serve Cupertino based on merit, and not how much money they have, or can collect. Offer solutions; point them to examples of other campaign finance ordinances. Let’s give them a chance to surprise us. If they don’t respond, then that’s a red flag. The next step will be to petition the Government for a redress of grievances in the Happy New Year.
Neighbor NextDoor November 19, 2011 at 10:21 AM
Gilbert Wong kept taking an insane amount of money from special interests and turns around claiming that he is fed up with being criticized. Why would anyone expect him suddenly finding a conscience or feeling shame of his shameful behavior? There is nothing new about corruption at any level, whether in politics or business. One who takes a bribe is expected to pay back for the favor. Once he gets the taste of money and power, there is no turning back. Reform would be the last thing on his mind. It's that simple!!
ronald moore November 26, 2011 at 10:55 PM
Ronald Moore I ran for city council eight years ago. I sought no money nor any endorsements. I spent a total of about $690, of my own money and I got around 1200 votes. Of course it was admittedly not a good campaign. I announced that we were immediately going on an already scheduled six week vacation. I did no other campaigning and did not solicit money nor endorsements. My wife and I printed 500 door-hangers (my only advertisement) we walked in Cupertino neighborhoods until all door hangers were gone, before we left for The East Coast. My only meeting was before the local Realtors. No other campaigning! Sure, I did not win. So, ask yourself: Why do some spend thousands of dollars for many, many glossy advertisements and signs, etc. and solicit endorsements from local and statewide politicians, friends and prominent residents? What is their motives? Why spend extravagantly, much, much more than the job pays! In fact, I really thought the City Council was a voluntary job: I found out after applying It actually paid about $650. Fair enough! So, why spend many,many thousands of dollars for no chance of getting your money's worth? Really! What is the Idea? Check that out! And, Let's get back to sanity.
ronald moore November 26, 2011 at 11:09 PM
OOP"S * "What is their motives?" Should have read: "What are their Motives?" Let's find out any way! * Famous last words!

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